[Aimone Sharif | Contributing Writer]
For our second edition of “Meet the lecturer” we met Dr Brilliant Sigabade Mhlanga, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and an internationally renowned researcher.
Dr Mhlanga is an exciting, eloquent speaker whose passion for teaching can be seen in the captivating way he delivers his lectures. We caught up with him as he was preparing for his presentation due to be delivered in Geneva, Switzerland where he would address the 7th Session of the United Nations’ Forum on Minority issues. He is also an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellow.
When we asked how Dr Mhlanga would describe himself, he replied “a rural African academic with a very strong passion for fighting for social justice, especially the oppressed of this world, in particular, the minorities, and also African issues; i.e., political issues”. He also emphasises that he has a history with issues linked to civil society activism.
Mhlanga takes his time to make his lineage and history clear; he is descendant of Zulu warrior, Gibide. His forbearer was a confidant of the Zulu monarch, who then migrated to present day Matebeleland, in Zimbabwe, and was part of the arrangement of the Ndebele Kingdom (founded in the mid-1820s) under King Mzilikazi kaMatshobana; which gives Dr Mhlanga a direct link to Royalty. Brilliant refers himself as a Sigabade (pronounced S’ga-ba-de), as he points out, linking it with Zulu short stabbing spear, the assegai.” I am sure you noticed my name ‘Brilliant Sigabade Mhlanga’ that name defines who I am, it defines who we are…it defines our source of origin, as people of eMhlangeni”. Brilliant then resumes his history by saying “I am a Mthwakazian who has a very strong natal link with the Zulu nation given my identity and the fact of my belonging to a chieftaincy family- the Sigabade family. I can proudly proclaim that I am a Mthwakazian”.
From a young age Brilliant was an activist; coming from a warrior background, with his parents, the Sigabades also having participated in the anti-colonial liberation struggles. However, Brilliant was quick to mention one very sad chapter in his life – as a victim and a survivor of the Gukurahundi genocide (1983-1988), meted on the people of Matebeleland, targeting the Ndebele people by the 5th Brigade led by Robert Mugabe, the then Prime Minister of Independent Zimbabwe. He lost a number of family members throughout those five years. He was quick to point out that a father that fought against colonialism raised him. Early on in his life Brilliant had a desire to see justice done following the genocide and so made it his life’s purpose to fight against any kind of injustice and oppression against minorities.
Even at high school, Dr Mhlanga used his energy to fight against oppression in Zimbabwe. When he reached university that passion did not fade, he became the Secretary General of Student Representative Council (SRC) (the equivalent of our Student Union) at the University of Zimbabwe and still fought radically against the government of Zimbabwe’s oppression. Due to his strong opinions Brilliant was suspended four times from University and expelled twice from the University of Zimbabwe. He was able to successfully fight all the suspensions and expulsions through the High Court.
Dr Mhlanga comes from a family of academics, with his father, Mgqhwetha Sigabade having been a teacher. After obtaining two undergraduate degrees from the University of Zimbabwe (a Bachelor of Arts General degree and a BSc Honours in Sociology), he studied for his Master’s degree at the University of Natal (South Africa) in 2005, and was offered a scholarship to go to the University of Oslo’s Department of Media Studies as part of a sandwich program. He then completed his Master of Arts in Cultural and Media Studies with a cum laude (first class) in 2006.
Dr Mhlanga later completed his PhD at the University of Westminster and started working as a Lecturer there until 2011 when the University of Hertfordshire offered him a position. Since 2011 he has been able to grow academically with the help of the School of Humanities and the university. “I am very grateful for the help I am getting here”, he states.
When asked why media is a passion, he describes media as the fulcrum which social representation and mediation processes take place, and is quick to point out how politicians have been able to abuse the media. Media is a platform of communication; it is an important public sphere.
Dr Mhlanga is a sociologist by training. He teaches Media, Cultural Studies, Research Methods in Social Sciences, Politics and International Relations. Teaching is very important for him; he enjoys communicating his ideas with others and sharing knowledge. He accentuates the importance of teaching; “I believe there is a strong connection between knowledge and power”.
When we ask him what he thought he would be when he was younger he explains that at the age of seven or eight he read a book with the word “sociologist” in it and thought it sounded nice and decided that he wanted to be one, even thought at the time he was ignorant of what it meant. As he grew up and time passed he did not see himself being a teacher anymore, but more of a leader following the different leadership roles he held. Eventually teaching opportunities arose he describes teaching as a calling that he could not run away from. “When teaching, I feel free, I feel like I am in my own bubble, away from the troubles of this World”, he explains with a passion.
Even after all of that, he spends quality time with his two children, instructs Karate and writes and publishes; two disciplines that enable him to get away from the world for a while. Brilliant describes teaching freshers as a privilege as they come thirsty for knowledge and with expectations from university. He describes the process of adaptation to university life and willingness to move forward in life interesting and is honoured to be seen as a helper not only academically but socially through pastoral engagement with students.
As we ask Brilliant for some tips for first years, his first response is surprising, “If you drink, make sure you drink 100 per cent and if it is time for doing school work, ensure that you work 100 per cent.” He would advice a student to balance their life well, socially and academically. He also advises students to manage their time properly and to have an open mind about everything, and he describes the university as a “market place of ideas.”
Brilliant announces a very close departure from the University of Hertfordshire to go back to South Africa. He is still unsure when he will be leaving but he seems confident that within a short period of time he will be gone.